A Nelson doctor has told his female patients he will no longer prescribe contraceptives because of his faith.
Dr Joseph Hassan wrote to 50 of his patients saying he believed fertility was a gift to be looked after and not something to be medicated for.
The Dominion Post reported last month that Dr Hassan told the women he would no longer prescribe any active form of birth control, or refer patients for sterilisation procedures. Dr Hassan also opposes abortion, though did not refer to this in the letter.
When questioned about his stance by Radio New Zealand’s Linda Clark, Dr Hassan said he had told patients that this was a stage in his own personal journey.
He said he had formed his conscience in the context of his Catholic upbringing but had been reluctant to make a stand before now.
‘Through much prayer and contemplation of the situation, I came to a point where I thought this was the correct approach.’
He hesitated to impose his beliefs against abortion on women seeking termination of pregnancy but this was one of the first areas in his practice that he changed.
‘Every time I made a decision [to refer a woman for a termination] I struggled with my own conscience.’
To be able to present such women with alternatives, Dr Hassan got together with others in the Nelson community to explore options to abortion. Eventually they set up an organisation of volunteers called Crisis Pregnancy Support.
‘I was amazed, [that] quite a number of women are happy to talk to someone about alternatives. Of those who have spoken to a counsellor, few choose to have a termination.
‘We find there’s an enormous resource of people in the community who feel strongly about life issues who are happy to put themselves out for free.’
Crisis pregnancy support workers believe that they need to support the woman, baby, and family as long as it’s required.
‘We find that most women enjoy their independence and quickly want to become independent though some need support for a bit longer.’
Dr Hassan has had a variety of reactions from patients.
‘The majority say good on you for sticking up for what you believe in. They may not believe it as I do but a lot recognise that it’s important to make decisions based on conscience.’
However, the coordinator of the Women’s Health Council, Lynda Williams, told Radio New Zealand Dr Hassan’s refusal to prescribe contraceptives was a matter of some concern.
‘These days women spend the greater part of their adult life controlling their fertility. It was part of daily life and not an option for women.’
She said for a doctor to choose not to prescribe contraceptives was ‘just not on’.
Doctors who decided not to prescribe artificial contraceptives should have this displayed on a large notice in their surgery so that patients could see it as soon as they entered.